School access for every child

Finding new chances for safe, reliable education thanks to support from the Japan Government

Linda Jonsson
School access for every child
UNICEF NIger/2019/Linda Jonsson

26 February 2019

DIFFA (Niger), 25 February 2019– Madame Amina shoos the children away from the classroom door as the testing process commences. The children, curious to see what is going on, continue to peek through the doorway and the cracks in the straw-constructed walls. Despite her admonition, there is a smile on her face as she turns back to face the class, a fondness for her students is clearly evident. “I worry about them. I wonder what will become of them after the three years here? What are their options and opportunities for the future?” she confesses. 

Even in the most complex contexts like Diffa region, teachers prepare Niger’s future generations. In a country where one in two children in school age goes to school and less than 30% of the population is literate, compared to 86% of the global average, everybody deserves a second chance.

Amina looks in particular at a boy sitting in the front, his long legs are stretching out from under the table. He is concentrating hard on the test paper in front of him, drawing lines on the blank page to solve the single-digit multiplication problem. ‘’7 x 7 = 48’’, he writes after carefully counting the ‘sticks’ – clearly he understands the concept of multiplication, but has not yet memorized the multiplication table and accidentally miscounts his lines. 

“Khalid is 18 already, he is the third of eight children,” Madame Amina explains. “He’s been here two years, so this is his third and final year. But what is he going to do afterwards? He’s too old to be integrated back into the normal school system. And I don’t know how to ensure more training for him. He wants to learn.”

School access for every child
UNICEF NIger/2019/Linda Jonsson

Madame Amina teaches at the Alternative Education Center (Centre d’éducation alternative) in Diffa, near the border with Nigeria, an area under the threat of Boko Haram. The Alternative Education Center caters for children who have not been able to enter the formal education system on time: many, like Khalid, live in remote rural areas, farming or raising livestock with their parents and siblings. 

“It’s not always easy for them. But I know that these little ones, will at least be integrated back into the formal system after a few months,’’ she points to some of the youngest in her 20-student class. ‘’Here they can learn the basics and therefore be more comfortable with their classmates in the regular school.”

“The center brings hope, it gives alternatives for those who weren’t able to join school. But more needs to be done.” 

School access for every child
UNICEF NIger/2019/Linda Jonsson

It’s not always easy for Amina herself either. A mother of two, she knows firsthand the importance of education. At the same time, she teaches at the AEC, her eldest is enrolled in the kindergarten located on the same grounds as center. She must leave her youngest with a caretaker though, and during breaks, she hurries off to breastfeed him as he’s only 3 months old. She’s been with the AEC since its creation with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). “The center brings hope, it gives alternatives for those who weren’t able to join school at the age of 7. But more needs to be done.”

“Khalid was lucky,” she says. “His parents moved him here so that he can gain some basic education at least. His two older brothers, they never went to school. Now he has a better academic knowledge. He can read, and at least do basic sums. This will help him find a better job’’ affirms Amina. 

Amina is so committed to her profession as a teacher, her priority is to enter the state entrance exam to gain further professional qualifications. “I will try it,” she smiles. “Then together we can find a way to make sure all these children continue to learn.” 

Thanks to the support of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, UNICEF supports the remedial numeracy programme implemented by the Ministry of Primary Education. The programme, called Paquet Minimum Axé sur la Qualité (PMAQ), which focuses on learning at the level of the child, is being implemented in fourteen alternative education centers in Diffa.

Children, regardless of their age or grade, are given the exercise book and lessons appropriate to their learning, with activities identified to support their specific learning challenges. This type of targeted learning has been shown to improve the basic competencies of children in various different countries and environments. 

In 2019, the Government of Japan commits additional US$2.2 million to help UNICEF accelerate its humanitarian assistance to women and children affected by conflict in Niger.

This additional funding support will contribute to social cohesion and peacebuilding through education, vocational training and the protection of children in the conflict-affected zones bordering the Lake Chad Basin and Mali.